Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 72nd birthday!

Oddly, I've spent the past two years thinking I was 72 and then delighting each year in knowing that I wasn't. Hubby, Steve, kept telling me that I was in my 72nd year and/or my 8th decade.

Now I finally am!

So far, I've had two early birthday celebrations, with one more scheduled today. My oldest son and his fiance want to take me to dinner. I just have to pick the place ... my easy chair?

On your 72nd, you just want to put up your feet, have a drink and watch some TV.  Not that I'm too old to go out and groove, just that I'm settling in after 8 weeks traipsing around the country.

I went to Virginia to see a friend, Illinois to see my 4 younger sisters, and Boston to see my son's family. Each stop was a 2-3 week stay.  A subliminal reason for all this travel was "testing" each area of the country to see if I could live there. After Steve's death, I was constantly asked if I was moving "back home". I always thought I was home, but just wanted to re-affirm this.

We moved to Tucson in 2007 to get away from the congestion and winter weather in New England. In the years we've been here, both conditions have worsened in New England. Plus the housing market has gone sky-high.

Illinois was where I grew up, but I've been away over 40 years, and my sisters are the only draw there. We have a wonderful time when I go to visit. But, Illinois is cold in the winter, the state is almost bankrupt and real estate taxes are high. I do keep looking at realtor.com and zillow though, just in case the perfect house appears.  I won't move, but I love to house-hunt.

Arizona is home on so many fronts. We've been in the house 12 years and have friends and neighbors. Children on the block come at Halloween to see our 6-foot bear dressed in witches' costume. The little neighbor girl, who walked Molly, is now in high school. We got married in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and I help teach sacramental prep there. There are lunches with the girls, cocktail parties, baptisms and cul-de-sac block parties.

It is delightfully warm in winter and the frogs are out in force after a midsummer monsoon. There's no grass to mow, the sun shines almost all year, and you can smell the desert ozone.  Tucson has grown a lot, but we are still a cowboy town at heart. Where else can you find rodeos, gem shows, desert museums and mesquite all in one place.

And finally, this is where Steve and I made our home.  He set me up to be warm and economically stable here. Two of his golden rules were "don't embarrass the family (there's no bail)" and "don't do anything stupid". Moving north or east would fall under the latter category. 
At the moment, my oldest son and his fiance are living with me while apartment hunting. They moved to Arizona -- to my house (?!) -- during my travel jaunt. This has worked out well as they kept an eye on the house, catching two troublesome water issues.  They've already found jobs, bought a car and tackled health insurance. Next on their agenda is getting an apartment.

Gives me one more reason to stay in Arizona ... or is that a reason to leave? Sometimes distance does make a heart grow fonder.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Coping by example ...

The list of widows is a mile long.

In my family, it was almost always the women who survived. It was my mother, Grandma, Aunt Max, Aunt Flava, Aunt Ida, Aunt Elsie, Cousin Mary, and on the short list of men, Uncle Gottleib and Cousin Bill.

How did all these people cope? My mother had children still at home. She and my aunt both worked. That would occupy their days at least.

But grandma and the aunts were all homebound and were part of the generation that didn't drive. What were their options? I wish now that I could pick their brains. How did they survive -- not just financially and physically, but more importantly, emotionally?

The first two weeks after I became a widow, my children and cousins were visiting, keeping me company and providing a distraction. The next month was tied up in paperwork -- closing accounts, transferring assets, filing death certificates, talking to accountants and lawyers.

I went online and looked up life actuary tables and survival rates for spouses after one died. FYI, widows have a higher death rate within the first 3 years. After that, the average lifespan is another 15 years, give or take a few years.

Confirming this is the double funeral the family had, when Aunt Rita died three days after Uncle Bob. They had been married forever and Uncle Bob did everything for her.

When Steve was alive, we were always planning to get the wills updated and check beneficiaries on this or that. Like most people, it was all still on the to-do list when we needed it.

Ordering my own house -- writing the will, the living will and defining beneficiaries -- became my next objective. I want it to be easier for the kids when I go, whether that is next week or 10-20 years away.

I'm not being macabre with all the death discussion, but I want to be prepared for the inevitable outcome. My Aunt Ida was in a nursing home the latter part of her life and she had everything planned, right down to the songs they would sing at her funeral, the Bible verses they would read, and which dress she would wear in the coffin.

And yes, I will admit, I do look forward to seeing Steve again. It's not that I want to go right now (or next week), but I miss him. Tear time.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Where to begin ...

Stevie, my husband and constant companion for over 38 years, passed away early Sunday morning, March 24, 2019.

It was about 1 a.m. After a normal night of TV and internet browsing, we were getting ready for bed. He was in his chair by the edge of the bed, breathing normally and then he stopped.

As quick and simple as that. One moment we were there talking, he was breathing and the next moment he wasn't. I'd always thought the human body was incredibly strong and took a lot to die. But it isn't, wasn't.

Guessing that I went into auto-mode. I remember calling "Stevie, Stevie ...", dialing 911 on the cel while running to unlock the front door and turn on the light. The dispatcher had me put Steve on his back and begin CPR. But think he was already gone.

When the firemen arrived, they worked on resuscitation for about 45 minutes ... before proclaiming Steve dead. Not passed, not gone, dead.

My hubby, my "Sweetie", the one I make Easter baskets for and send birthday cards to, the one I watch endless hours of Fox News with, the one who holds my hand at night and tells me silly jokes when I'm trying to get to sleep.

I know he is gone, but he is still here. I can hear his voice. I can feel his touch.

It's been just over a month and I wasn't ready to write this until now.  I've googled all the links about surviving spouses and the stages of grief. And those about how to survive after a spouse dies -- both financially and emotionally.

I've received lots of support from friends, family and neighbors who have reached out and continue to do so. My sons and California cousins were here the week after and I continue to get weekly, daily calls and texts.

Other widows have offered valuable information. My hairdresser lost her husband 7 months ago. My first question to her was, "does it get easier". The answer ... expected of course ... is "not really".

But there are so many of us. One statistic I came across said "nearly 700,000 women lose their husbands each year and will be widows for an average of 14 years".

I spent 33 years growing up, 38 years married to Steve, and now a projected 14 years as a widow -- the three stages of life? He often told me that I had to live long enough to see the grandchildren graduate from high school. That is just about 14 years.  He adored his granddaughters.

Earlier this month, my daughter-in-law texted me that our 3-year-old granddaughter Addie had been laughing in her sleep. When asked why, she said she had been playing "with Stevie and Aunty Sarah". 

Addy never called him Stevie, but always "Grumpy". Yet that day, it was Stevie who had been playing with her. "Aunty Sarah" was our late daughter, who was stillborn. And that sounds about right, that Stevie would be visiting ... with Sarah at his side.

Thursday, February 21, 2019


If Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day, then Thursday is pancake day.

Last year, I visited my sisters in Illinois and my next door neighbor watched over hubby, who was unable to drive. She ran errands, baked pound cake for him and on Thursdays brought him pancakes from the Village Inn.

Thus was pancake Thursday instituted.  Every Thursday I find myself at the counter getting take-out pancakes for my now-pampered husband. Why don't I just make them?

Obviously, you are not familiar with my cooking. Spaghetti and dropped (soft-boiled) eggs are my two specialties – except for those occasions when I undercook or overcook both.

My grandmother was a cook at the local grade school and could make everything. Ah, the fried chicken, cherry cobbler, and Christmas sugar cookies that I remember. During one diet, I counted up the calories in her Sunday dinner and they exceeded my limit for the week.

My mother was notable for making cakes ... not the fancy kind, but the wonderfully chocolate kind in an oblong baking pan. She would take one every Sunday to go with Gram's dinner.

I remember one Sunday when it was smashed in the center. Getting five girls – my sisters and me – into the car at the same time was a challenge. She had placed the cake pan on the front seat of the car. And then, in a hurry, she had thrown her purse into the car.

You can imagine – direct hit. Luckily, there was a kitchen towel over the cake. Neither purse nor taste of the cake was severely damaged.

One time I learned to make lasagna from scratch. Well, I bought the noodles and sauce – as close to scratch as I get. In my defense, I did assemble it all in the pan!

We had relatives visiting  and the church was having a "hunger dinner" for the youth group. You know the kind, where those who draw the "poor" straw have bread and water; while the "rich" get to eat real food.

I made two pans of lasagna, one for the church and one for us. Hubby dropped off the finished church lasagna while we girls had a glass of wine or two. Then everyone sat down to dinner.

The girls were having a great time chatting and sipping, until we noticed both the guys were loading up on bread and moving the untouched lasagna around on their plates. Yep, last time I would ever make lasagna.

Still don't understand what made it so totally inedible. And those "rich" kids at the church dinner probably wished they had drawn the "poor" straw.

Never did go back to church to claim that baking dish. Not mine!

My hubby always says the best thing I make is "reservations".

I haven't given up all hope. Now that I've retired, was thinking about trying a cooking class. But then, I have my hubby so well-trained, it would be a crime to deprive him of the pleasures of take-out.

He anticipates the weekly spaghetti and pancake nights.

 And pizza ... that's Friday nights.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What day is this ...?

Today is Tuesday, Feb. 19 ... which I know because I looked at my computer screen and then double-checked my desk calendar. Can't be too careful.

It's also the second month since I retired after 40+ years from the newspaper / publishing / internet development industries. But am still spending most of my time on the computer, trying to get my website up-to-date.

That story about the painter's house being the only one on the block that needs to be painted ... too true. The last time I touched my website was some 10+ years ago. We had a family reunion in 2010 and I posted info for the family.  And it is 2019 already. Time does fly.

Updating a website is a time-consuming process, since I have to touch every page. And they are all loaded with things that need to be changed ... names, addresses, statuses .. and code that could be more streamlined.

First up was finally replacing pictures of my sons' old girlfriends with their current fiances and brides. These poor spouses have had to live with their predecessors on the site for the past ten years.

My sons are lucky they don't have frying pans attached to their heads.

There is also the matter of what to keep public and what to password-control. And all those checks to make sure it really is guarded by a password.

My husband has been trying to sell his 1986 El Camino – a show car – on the website. Unfortunately, the interested buyers so far have been men wanting to use the car to pick up lumber at Lowes and drive to the grocery store.

Uh-uh. They are quickly shown to the (garage) door.

This is a show car, one to be cherished and babied. Not sure, but it might even be more valuable than the wife. Seems that way some days.

Our site was also used for the company business when we lived in Massachusetts. That was shut down long ago, when we moved to Arizona. So, will finally retire that section of the website ... just not sure what to replace it with.

We have travel sagas, family photo albums, reunion calendars and pictures. It's slow-going, much like pulling out a picture album. You get caught up in looking at all the pictures and the captions.

Plus can't get much done in one day – what with staying up late, sleeping in each morning and surfing the net for the day's news. Then there's Facebook, DrudgeReport, multiple newspapers, checking the emails ... and it's time for lunch!

Then back to the emails, do some work on the website and it's already dinner time. (Oh, and housework ... that's still on the back burner. Will get to it as soon as I find time.) Amazingly, the days speed by.

BTW, what day is today? Let me go look ...

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Horse Sense

    May I have back that dress I gave you....? 

    Remember that perfect dress ... or the slacks ... or the suit that you could not live without? And where is it now?

    Clothes come in and out of our lives on a regular basis and -- if you're like me -- they're given away when you drop a dress size and madly longed for when you go up two sizes.

    From my youth, I can remember two items of clothing from Rolands, one of those exclusive Illinois stores that has long since closed. One was a pink and white jersey that felt like spun sugar ... which quickly melted and twisted into a cotton candy lump when I used too hot an iron.

    The other was a bright yellow Pollyanna dress (think sunshine) with gathered waist and puffy sleeves. I was sure I looked lovely; more likely a lemon. Where did that dress go. Or, do I really, really care?

    Another never-to-be-forgotten ensemble was my first paisley print pantsuit. It was custom-made by the local seamstress and started the pantsuit revolution. Maybe, all by itself.

    Some dresses though have come to symbolize our youth and sexual allure. I still remember a plum-colored knit, long to mid-calf, with batwing arms. (The better to hide my inheritance from my grandmother ... upper arms that resemble Dumbo's ears, ready to take off at the first breeze.) Ah, how those sleeves hid things!

    Many a time, I wore that dress to social events and dinners where I hoped to attract and enchant the opposite sex. Alas, that never happened, but I never blamed the dress. Must have been the men and their lack of fashion sense.

    This dress went to sister-in-law Paula, who was involved in theatre, and whom -- I was sure -- would pursue many theatrical entrances in this number. Can you hear me Paula? If that dress is hanging in the recesses of your closet, I'd love to try it on again. Or, if it's long since demised, I'd love to know how it met its fate.

    Janet, Judy and Sharon -- my sisters in Illinois -- benefited from many of my wardrobe discards. I used to travel extensively and could only manage those things that would fit into a suitcase. At the same time, I was a polished and inveterate shopper. The two would not seem to mesh, except that I gave away as often and as much as I acquired.

    I do remember a velvet jacket, but not much more. (Note to sisters: see message to Paula.)

    Janet once had a slinky black cocktail dress that was strapless and had its own velvet jacket. I remember that particularly from a trip we girls took together to Las Vegas.

    We had tickets to a dinner performance and were sliding onto the cushions around the nightclub's round table. I slid around first and then Judy, when suddenly Janet screamed "Stop, stop!"

    Judy was sliding around the table and grabbing at what she thought was the tablecloth. Instead, it was Janet's strapless slinky black cocktail dress -- now X-rated. Jackets are a blessing!

    But we're getting off track here. Girls, you'll have to tell stories about your dresses on your own time.

    Again, I remember a white knit, mid-calf (they seem so elegant at that length) with a smocked top and ballooning sleeves (the batwings again). I was a fairy princess in that, until I saw a photograph someone took of me. The dress immediately went into the back of the closet -- on the floor, I think -- and was never heard from again.

    Speaking of "fairy princesses", I was one in first or second grade. Aunt Flava, one of my grandmother's sisters, gave us dresses for the Christmas play. Mine had a black velvet bodice with little glass diamonds sewn in and a taffeta skirt of black and gold plaid.

    It was truly magic. The best dresses are.